The Ladies Guide to History: Lucrezia Borgia by Sarah Bradford

Who Was She

Lucrezia Borgia was a woman who was able to control most of her life when she easily could have let the men in her life control her. This is what makes her so remarkable. Born in the Rennaisance as the illegitimate daughter of a man who was sworn to the church. Lucrezia could have faced many challenges, not the least being ostracized. However, Lucrezia was born into an incredibly powerful family, the Borgias. The Borgias gained power when her father, Rodrigo rose to prominence as a cardinal and then the family gained, even more, power when he was elected as Pope Alexander VI. Lucrezia’s brother Cesare particularly gained from this rise in the family’s prominence as he was a cardinal himself (although he resigned when he was made Duke of Valentinois by the King of France). Over time the family gained a reputation, that remains to this day, for nepotism, ruthlessness, indulgence, and incest (although the incest reputation is hardly proven, rather it was probably started as rumors spread by the family’s enemies, the others, however, are true). Lucrezia was beloved by these powerful men in her life, and more importantly, was trusted by them. She rewarded their trust with her incredible loyalty. She was surprisingly devout, especially later in life, and sought refuge in her times of need at various convents throughout her life. She also held power herself, as she was left to run things several times by the Pope and also her own estate.

Lucrezia was married for political influence three times. Her first marriage ended when the Pope thought that he could make a better marriage. Her second husband was murdered by her brother’s people. Her third marriage was to the powerful future Duke of Ferrara, Alphonse d’Este. Her experience in running large households would come in handy as Alphonse would as leave her in charge of Ferrara as well. He trusted her to make many decisions; political, martial and economic. Although, Alphonse began his marriage feeling forced into a marriage with Lucrezia (he was) but quickly they grew to hold the other in esteem and were quite fond of each other.

“Leaving me in the greatest imaginable anguish of soul the most unexpected and greatest loss. I am writing to you about this grief that oppresses me so greatly and to those that love me because… it seems that it may give me some relief in my sorrow.”
Alphonse d’Este, Duke of Ferrara

What I Thought of the Biography

IMG_1488Sarah Bradford’s book on Lucrezia Borgia was an interesting depiction of Lucrezia’s life. The author did a good job of describing Lucrezia’s reactions and feelings to trials she faced at different times in her life. She supported this with just the right amount of first-hand accounts. These quotes and excerpts were well chosen. It was nice to be able to read Lucrezia’s and others important to her story, own words. However, I feel like this book is very heavily focused Lucrezia’s story to the exclusion of everything else. Usually, I would say this is a good thing but in Bradford’s case, there are a few times where she could have expanded on background information, like the war between Alphonso and the Pope Julius rather than describing in agonizing detail everything that she wore. It was hard to understand what was going on without the relevant background information. This might just be my own ignorance though. I know very little about this time in Italy. I felt that Sarah Bradford was writing to an audience that knew more about the subject and time period than I did.

Overall, I gave this book a 3/5 star rating and would recommend it to anyone interested in the Borgias or Lucrezia. However, I would suggest having a firmer background in Rennaisance Italy than I did.


Relevant Links:

Lucrezia Borgia by Sarah Bradford

Sarah Bradford’s Website


Previous Ladies Guide Posts:

The Ladies Guide to History: Hildegard of Bingen

The Ladies Guide to History: Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley

The Ladies Guide to History: Marian Anderson

The Ladies Guide to History: Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir 

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